“Do we have to lose European citizenship to grasp the price? Brits who regret Brexit ask the question »

“We shouldn’t have to do what we’re doing. » When the official in charge of naturalizations at the German Embassy in London slipped this sentence at the end of an appointment with J., a well-known English historian, the latter felt tears welling up in his eyes. “It was so delicate and touching, my voice cracked. I thought of the emotion my mother would have felt. » At 58, he had just turned a significant page in his life by initialing his naturalization decree. British right down to his fingertips, he had just become German without losing his original nationality.

In 1938, just after the terrible pogrom of Kristallnacht, his mother and all her family had left Frankfurt for England and obtained British citizenship. Married to an Englishman, J.’s father, she raised her two sons after the war without the slightest reference to Judaism or Germany. And now they have decided, like thousands of other British Jews of German origin, to use the provision of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic which allows Germans who have been stripped of their nationality by the Nazis, and to their descendants, to recover it.

the “we shouldn’t have to do what we’re doing” of the German official obviously referred to this tragic past. But it can also be understood as an allusion to the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (EU), this Brexit which, by taking away their European citizenship from the British, was experienced by many as an amputation. “The revelation that my country could inflict a deep wound on me”, summarizes J. A shock particularly felt by the British of German Jewish origin, whose history had taken on a new meaning thanks to membership of the EU.

Intimate and political

The curve of acquisitions of German nationality by British citizens reflects the scale of this phenomenon, which is both very intimate and of high political significance. Limited to a few hundred per year before Brexit, they exploded in 2019, just before the break with the EU became effective: 14,600 that year. Since then, between 4,000 and 5,000 Britons obtain passports from the authorities in Berlin each year. The issue has become so sensitive that in 2021 it prompted a relaxation of German nationality law.

If, since 1949, the Constitution of the Federal Republic has granted the right to naturalization to any German deprived of his nationality by the Nazis, it excluded their descendants who had lost this nationality, for example if their mother had lost it by marrying a alien, as federal law once provided. Others had had their applications rejected because their ancestors had fled Germany and taken another nationality before their citizenship was officially revoked in 1941.

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